In its place, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has framed his mission as restoring the “rule of law", which often means stiffening the spines and limiting the discretion of prosecutors, judges and law officers. And under President Trump’s “America first” mandate, being tough on crime is inextricably tied to being tough on immigration.“I think all roads in Trump's rhetoric and Sessions’s rhetoric sort of lead to immigration,” said Ames Grawert, an attorney in the left-leaning Brennan Center’s Justice Program who has been studying the administration’s ideology. “I think that's going to make it even harder for people trying to advance criminal justice reform because that's bound up in the president's mind, in the attorney general's mind, as an issue that they feel very, very passionately on—restricting immigration of all sorts.”Here are nine ways Trump has transformed the landscape of criminal justice, just one tumultuous year into his presidency.
The president’s rhetoric seemed to trickle down. Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, adopted what many call “Trumpism” during his fall campaign, vilifying Democrat Ralph Northam as being soft on crime. His ads accused Democrats of restoring the voting rights of a child pornography collector—targeting one man out of the 168,000 former felons who had had their voting rights restored.In a hotly contested Alabama senate race, Trump accused the Democrat—a prosecutor who had won convictions against two Klansmen who helped plot the 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls—of being “soft on crime.”While both of the Republicans lost, prisoner advocates worry the discourse has re-sparked irrational fears and will spook conservatives who have in recent years joined the reform movement. And Trump has not limited his target set to Democrats. He has attacked members of his own party, like Arizona senator Jeff Flake, as “weak on crime and border.”
“We… have to come up with punishment that's far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said. “They'll go through court for years. And at the end, they'll be—who knows what happens. We need quick justice and we need strong justice—much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”